With the price of inflation going up and the cost of gas skyrocketing, I was forced to make a few changes and try new things to save money rather than raise prices at the pottery. One of those ways was to try something I have always wanted to try but put off: firing the pots only once in the kiln.
This would mean I must practice glazing greenware for at least the smaller items. The cost savings would cut my fuel bill almost in half. Other potters do use the single fire or once fired method, but I never have. I was prepping for a show in Lake Carey, PA in the Old Carter barn. It’s a really lovely old barn that was refurbished to hold weddings and small local concerts. I had a load of bowls to fire out, so I decided to try a single fire.
Raw Fired Pots:
I first took the bone-dry bowls and glazed the insides of them all. I waited until they were dry, then carefully dunked the outsides. The process was quite delicate, and I broke three, but it was not too bad for the first try.
Once all the bowls were glazed inside and out, I ensured the bottoms were clean by cleaning off any drips with a damp sponge. I let the pots dry some once more and went and had a coffee. Next, I put large square plates down and loaded the bowls onto them in case anything blew up; they would stick to the shelves. Since this was my first single fire, I had to be extra careful.
I started the kiln off with a two-hour warm-up on low with just the burners and kept it under 200F. My next time was turning up the kiln I did so just until the burner barely lit. I let the kiln fire this way and slowly warm for another hour. When the alarm went off on my timer, I did another turn-up until I could just hear a light flow of air being sucked into the burner vents. At this stage, the kiln’s temperature is at about 800F, and it smokes some burning off the organic material. I set my timer for another hour, then go trim pots or watch Bridezillas.
On the next turn up, I open the valve until I can hear air being sucked in at a study flow, and the flame is blue. At this point, the flames should reach about halfway up the kiln. After another hour, I turn up the kiln until the flame is just over the top shelf and just under the lid. By this stage, the kiln is generally near red heat. There is no black smoke, and all the carbon, if there is any, is burned off the pots and out of the kiln.
For the last turn-up, I like the flames to be licking about 8 inches out of the top of the lid. I let the kiln fire checking every thirty minutes, every fifteen minutes towards the end until the cone bends in the center peephole, then I shut everything down and covered the top hole in the lid.
The process I mentioned above worked out great as the manual turn-ups were slow enough to allow the pots to both bisque and later become glazed all in one firing. If the single firing is done too fast, issues can develop between the wall of the pot and the glaze as gases from organic matter do not have time to escape. This can cause a bit of blistering. I was relieved when I lifted the lid to see all the pots looking back at me in one piece.
I was so happy and let everyone know all about it. I also had some ash glaze tests in there that turned out great, and I was able to take all those pots and sell them at the sale at the Carter Barn at Lake Carey, PA. I was also happy to know I could now do the single firings and maybe save a few dollars without raising prices.
However, I was not the only one making transitions to new things. Down at the Wright Choice Diner, some were not all that used to change and were feeling a bit uncomfortable about it, that is, until things were worked out.
It was 6:00 A.M at the Wright Choice Diner, and Milk Man Dan was there early like he was every other morning when he did the milk run. Dan would sip coffee and eat eggs over easy with toast while he waited for the boys up at the Clemmer Farm to finish milking at 7:00 so he could make his first stop. Milk Man Dan was always a bit late everywhere he went because in that type of profession, showing up early meant waiting for some farmer to finish up so you could pump out his bulk tank. So Milk Man Dan always made it a habit to show up fashionably late everywhere he went to give folks time to ready themselves for his arrival.
It all worked out in the wash as Milk Man Dan applied the same timing methods on Sundays. Showing up late meant you got to sit in the back row at church during the baptist sermon. And if you were the last one to the sermon, it was far too late to have the preacher change things up and make the preaching all about you. So even if the good minister came down hard on folks for being late for church, Dan was sure to miss half of it while his wife nudged him to stay awake. But this morning, Milk Man Dan was not eating his eggs like normal for some reason.
The eggs and toast were getting cold on Milk Man Dan’s plate as he sat with his elbows on the counter and chin in his hands, looking at them. We all were not to sure what the issue was as we glanced over.
“Hey, Bob..your eggs taste all right?” I ask, leaning in to whisper.
” Taste fine to me.” Says old Bob picking up a piece of bacon and putting it in his mouth.
“Yeah, mine are fine. Not sure what’s going on with Dan down there.”
Just then, Big Jimmy, the cook, and owner, came out for a chat and noticed Milk Man Dan not being hungry. He went over to find out what the issue was. Big Jimmy knew the eggs were fried to specification. You fry them until they turn solid white, then flip them and count to four. That’s how Milk Man Dan told big Jimmy how he liked them way back, and Big Jimmy knew today he counted to four; he saw the kid helping do it.
“Hey Dan, you not hungry today? Did we all mess up your eggs?”
“Nawww, it’s not that.” Said Milk Man Dan, mumbling.
“I don’t eat eggs made and served by those kinds of people.”
At that, big Jimmy went over for a closer chat.
“What do you mean “those” kinds of people Dan?”
“Well, on Monday when I was here, that kid you have working came out and gave me my eggs, and his name was Ricky ..but just now today, that same kid comes out with a name tag called Emma. And you can’t tell me the guy got it mixed up. Just saying.”
Big Jimmy’s neck was turning red, and we all at the bar went back to eating like normal as we knew something big was about to go down. Whenever Big Jimmy’s neck turned red, you knew someone might be on their way to getting tossed from the Wright Choice Diner, or if not that, walked out to the back steps where all types of things were worked out the hard way.
Big Jimmy was now standing directly in front of Milk Man Dan at the counter. His large body casting a looming shadow over Dan and his plate of cold eggs.
‘”So what’s it to you, Dan? Who cares what the name tag says.”
“Are you telling me your eggs are different from the ones you had here on Monday, Dan?”
“Like, do you think that because a person has a name change or transition that they would mess up frying eggs?”
“The kid counted to four, Dan, just like you wanted. I was there to be sure. And yeah, the name is Emma. Now you gonna eat those damn eggs or not?”
Big Jimmy looked down the counter at the rest of us with his red face.
“Hey, Guys! Those eggs Emma brought out they were fine and all, correct?”
“Because maybe..just maybe..I could be losing my mind and messed up the eggs today for some strange reason. So you all are telling me they were good?”
Now when big Jimmy asks you a question like that, it’s important to answer quickly and not keep him waiting or cause trouble.
“Sure were Jimmy!” I say.
“Tasted just like the ones we had here yesterday I would say. Easy over is how I like them and all, and the kitchen nailed it for sure? Right, Bob?”
“Umm, Hmmm!” said old Bob with his mouth full.
Big Jimmy looked back at Dan.
“Well, Dan, I’m kind of hurt that you don’t like the eggs Emma fried today. And because of that, I think your payment for that money I loaned you for those new tires out on the milk truck might be due right now.”
When we all glanced over and we could see Milk Man Dan’s face go a bit white. We all knew Dan did not have the rest of the truck tire money as eight-teen wheels cost quite a bit and Dan just had them put on two weeks ago. They were nice tires. Michelins, all of them, over seven hundred dollars a pop. We also knew never to ask Big Jimmy where he got the money that he was always kind enough to lend out if you had hard times. Big Jimmy had a big heart as long as you did.
“So this is what I’m going to do, Dan. I’m going to go back into that kitchen and finish up helping out cooking, and when I come back in twenty minutes, I want an answer on what you plan to do because I only need to make one phone call to a guy to have that whole milk truck out there up on blocks because I know you don’t have the money. And also, let me know if I can get you a to-go container for your eggs if you decide not to eat them here but while walking home.”
With that big, Jimmy turned and angrily walked past us all back into the kitchen to let Milk Man Dan come up with some kind of action plan. It didn’t take long before Dan started eating his eggs cold, and in no time, flat had cleared his plate. When Emma came out for a small break and coffee like nothing happened, we all thought we heard Milk Man Dan say the eggs were good when she asked. We thought big Jimmy might have set it up that way and had a good chuckle. He was like that. He was always one step ahead when he could be, unless it were the IRS.
Now there may not be an Emma or a Milk Man Dan, but somewhere, someplace, someone was transitioning through something as the only thing constant is change. We can face changing the hard way or the easy way. We get to decide almost every time. Some changes take a bit more effort than others, but it all goes down much easier with a large glass of empathy.
Creek Road Pottery L.L.C.
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